§ 1. The Worship of the Sky among the ancient Babylonians and Assyrians
HAVING treated of the worship of the sky among the Aryan peoples of antiquity we now pass to consider that worship among peoples of different races and different languages. We may begin with the ancient Babylonians and Egyptians, the two peoples whose civilization dates from the remotest past of which we possess written records.
The worship of the sky among non-Aryan peoples.
The Sumerians in Babylonia.
To take the Babylonians first. It was at one time the fashion to regard Babylonian civilization as of purely Semitic origin, and to assume that the Semitic Babylonians and they alone were the founders of that complicated system of religious belief and practice which we know to have existed from a very early time on the banks of the Euphrates. But the extensive excavations conducted in Babylonia within recent years have proved beyond the reach of doubt that before the Semites ever reached Babylonia the country was occupied by a non-Semitic race known as the Sumerians, who tilled the land, reared cattle, built cities, dug canals, and developed a comparatively high civilization, including a copious literature. But there is some evidence that even the Sumerians were not the first inhabitants of the land. It is probable that, like the Semites of a later age, they were merely settlers in it, and that they reached the fertile valley of the two rivers from some mountainous region of Central Asia. Who occupied the country before the coming of the Sumerians we cannot say, for of the aborigines we know nothing. The first inhabitants of Babylonia of whom we have definite knowledge were the Sumerians; they deeply influenced the religion of the Semitic invaders who attacked and overthrew their empire, and it is impossible rightly to understand the religious system of the Semitic Babylonians without taking into account the foreign Sumerian influence under which it grew up.1
Antiquity and decline of the Sumerian domination: rise of the Semites: supremacy of Baby tan.
The beginning of Sumerian influence in Babylonia is lost in the mists of antiquity, but an eminent historian, the late Leonard W. King, was of opinion that the earliest religious centres in the country may well have been founded some six or seven thousand years before Christ. The decline of the political power of the Sumerians, on the other hand, may be assigned roughly to the centuries between 2500 B.C. and 2300 B.C. At the latter date Babylon had risen to a position of pre-eminence among the cities of the land, and the Semitic population had gained a complete mastery over their ancient rivals, whom they gradually absorbed. From that time onward the city of Babylon maintained her supremacy, and never ceased to be the capital of the country to which she afterwards gave her name.2
The Assyrians an offshoot of the Babylonians.
While the Babylonians in their religious beliefs were deeply influenced by the conquered Sumerians, they in their turn exercised a still deeper influence on their northern neighbours the Assyrians. At first, indeed, the Assyrians were no more than a handful of colonists from Babylonia, who carried with them the faith of their mother country to their new home. Though later on they gained their independence, and after many centuries of conflict reduced the elder branch of their race to subjection, their system of religion, despite a few changes and modifications, always remained essentially Babylonian. Hence their religious writings may safely be used as materials for the study of Babylonian religion.3 Indeed a great, perhaps the greatest, part of our knowledge of the Babylonian religion is derived from Assyrian documents, and mainly from the thousands of clay tablets which once formed part of the library of King Ashurbanipal at Nineveh. That ruthless conqueror, but enlightened patron of learning, was one of the last kings to occupy the throne of Assyria, reigning from 669 B.C. to about 625 B.C. To his credit, he made great efforts to collect and preserve the old literature of Babylonia and Assyria. His scribes visited especially the ancient cities and temples of the south, and took copies of literary works of all sorts which they found there. These they gathered and arranged in the king's palace at Nineveh, and the wrecks of that great library now form our principal source of information on Babylonian religion and mythology.4
The library of King Ashurbanipal at Nineveh.
The Babylonian gods anthropomorphic.
The gods of the Babylonians, in the forms under which they were worshipped during the later historical periods, were conceived as beings with very definite personalities. All the greater gods, though they wielded superhuman powers, were supposed to be endowed with human forms, possessed of human thought and feeling, and animated by human passions. Like men they were born, like men they loved and fought, and like men they died. In short, the Babylonian gods were highly anthropomorphic; the distinction between the worshipper and his god was not in kind but in degree.5
Babylonian religion a worship of nature: the gods personifications of natural forces.
While the higher gods of the Babylonian pantheon have each their own strongly marked individualities, it is not difficult to discover the ground of their differentiation. On this subject I will quote the opinion of one of our best authorities on Babylonian religion, the late Leonard W. King. I do so all the more gladly because his testimony goes to confirm the general thesis which I maintain in this treatise, namely, that a very large part of religion, at least in its earlier phases, is based on a direct personification of nature. Speaking of the Babylonian pantheon, Mr. King says: The characters of the gods themselves betray their origin, They are personifications of natural forces; in other words, the gods and many of the stories told concerning them are the best explanation the Babylonian could give, after many centuries of observation, of the forces and changes he saw at work around him in the natural world. He saw the sun pass daily overhead, he observed the phases of the moon and the motions of the stars; he felt the wind and feared the tempest; but he had no notion that these things were the result of natural laws. In company with other primitive peoples he explained them as the work of beings very like himself. He thought of nature as animated throughout by numberless beings, some hostile and some favourable to mankind, in accordance with the treatment he had received from them. From the greater powers and forces in nature he deduced the existence of the greater gods, and in many of the legends and myths he told concerning them we may see his naive explanation of the working of the universe. He did not speak in allegory or symbol, but believed his stories literally, and moulded his life in accordance with their teaching. Babylonian religion, therefore, in its general aspect may be regarded as a worship of nature, and the gods themselves may be classified as the personifications of various natural powers.6
The Babylonian trinity, Anu, Bel, and Ea.
Now the Babylonians divided the whole realm of nature into three departments, namely the Sky, the Earth, and the subterranean Water, and each of these departments they personified as a god. To the Sky-god they gave the name of Anu; to the Earth-god they gave the name of Bel; and to the Water-god they gave the name of Ea. These three gods were superior to all the other deities, but among themselves they were approximately equal. Together they embraced the whole universe within their sphere of influence, thus forming a triad or trinity which may be compared to the Greek trinity of Zeus, Poseidon, and Pluto. When, therefore, a worshipper invoked Anu, Bel, and Ea, he believed that he named all the powers that determine the fate of man, since their triple kingdom comprised within it all the realms of the many inferior deities.7 At a very early period in Sumerian history we find these three great deities mentioned in close connexion with each other under their Sumerian names of Anna or Ana, corresponding to Anu, of Enlil corresponding to Bel, and of Enki corresponding to Ea. King Lugal-zaggisi, who caused the inscription to be written in which their names occur, was one of the earliest Sumerian rulers of whose reign we have evidence, and we can thus trace back the existence of this great trinity of gods to the very beginning of history. During the later periods the connexion of these deities with each other, as the three great gods of the universe, remained in full force. Each member of the trinity had his own centre of worship. Thus Anu, while he had temples in other parts of the country, was specially worshipped in Uruk, the Babylonian name of Erech, which is mentioned in Genesis as one of the oldest cities of Babylonia.8 The Semitic god Bel was identified with the Sumerian deity Enlil, whose worship in E-Kur, as his temple in the city of Nippur was called, is the oldest, or one of the oldest, of the local cults attested by the archaic inscriptions. The worship of Ea, the third member of the trinity, took its rise in Eridu, the most southerly of the great cities of Babylonia. The site of the city, now marked by the mound of Abu Shahren, is some fifty miles distant from the mouth of the Shatt el-Arab; but in the earliest period of Babylonian history, before the formation of the present delta, the city must have stood on the shore of the Persian Gulf.9
Sumerian names of the three gods.
Anu, principally worshipped at Uruk (Erech), Enlil al Nippur, and Ea at Eridu.
Anu, the Sky-god.
His superiority to the other two persons of the trinity.
Anu, the name of the Babylonian Sky-god, means the one on high.10 It is of Sumerian origin, being probably derived from the Sumerian word an, signifying the sky; in any case Anu is essentially a personification of the sky,11 like Dyaus in Sanscrit, Zeus in Greek, and Jupiter in Latin. Though the three members of the trinity, as we have seen, may be regarded as approximately equal in dignity and power, yet in theory a certain supremacy appears to have been assigned to the Sky-god, Anu, as standing at the head of the divine hierarchy, like the Sky-god, Zeus, at the head of the Greek pantheon.12 He was described by preference as King (sharru) and Father of the Gods (abu ilâni).13 His theoretical superiority to the other two persons of the trinity is clearly marked by the assignation to him of the number sixty, the unit of the sexagesimal system, while the other two gods had to content themselves with the inferior numbers of fifty and forty respectively.14 Thus the Sky-god marched, so to say, in the van of the trinity, while the Water-god brought up the rear. The Sky-god, Anu, was naturally conceived of as dwelling in the radiant heaven; there was the throne (kussû) on which he sat, and from which, as occasion served, he also stood up. His special home would seem to have been in the northern sky.15
The worship of Anu not popular an Babylonia.
At Erech he was ousted by his daughter Ishtar.
Yet in spite of the lofty rank accorded to him as head of the pantheon, the worship of Anu appears never to have been popular in Babylonia. Though he passed for the Father of the Gods, he remained little more than an abstraction. None of the important cities of Babylonia and Assyria revered him as their patron deity.16 It is true that he was worshipped specially in Der, but that city never attained to a position of ascendancy in the country. In Assyria his worship was thrown into the shade by that of the national god Ashur.17 He was honoured, indeed, in Erech, but there his cult was soon ousted by the worship of his daughter Ishtar, the Babylonian goddess of love, who was there inseparably associated with him. Not content with installing herself beside her father in the temple of E-anna, the house of heaven, she introduced her characteristically licentious rites, which made the city a byword, and in which her Heavenly Father presumably had no share.18 In Ashur, the old capital of Assyria, the Sky-god Anu shared a temple with Ramman or Adad, the god of thunder and lightning, who was deemed his son.19 Thus the differentiation of the Thunder-god from the Sky-god, which was barely incipient in Roman religion,20 was complete in Babylonian religion; the division of labour, which works such wonders in human society, was successfully applied in the society of the gods; the Supreme Being was relieved of the trouble of rolling the thunder and hurling the lightning, and might consequently devote himself with less interruption to that life of contemplation which may be thought peculiarly appropriate to a celestial deity. The temple of the two gods at Ashur was originally built by Shamshi-Adad, a high priestly official, but after going to decay for six hundred and forty-one years it was pulled down by Ashur-dan, King of Assyria. Sixty years afterwards, about 1100 B.C., it was rebuilt in magnificent style by King Tiglath-pileser, who has recorded its restoration in an inscription. He tells us that in the beginning of his reign Anu and Adad, the great gods, his lords, demanded of him the restoration of their sacred dwelling. He proceeds: I made bricks, and I cleared the ground, until I reached the artificial flat terrace upon which the old temple had been built I laid its foundation upon the solid rock and incased the whole place with brick like a fireplace, overlaid on it a layer of fifty bricks in depth, and built upon this the foundations of the temple of Anu and Adad of large square stones. I built it from foundation to roof larger and grander than before, and erected also two great temple towers, fitting ornaments of their great divinities. The splendid temple, a brilliant and magnificent dwelling, the habitation of their joys, the house for their delight, shining as bright as the stars on heaven's firmament and richly decorated with ornaments through the skill of my artists, I planned, devised, and thought out, built and completed. I made its interior brilliant like the dome of the heavens; decorated its walls, like the splendour of the rising stars, and made it grand with resplendent brilliancy. I reared its temple towers to heaven and completed its roof with burned brick; placed therein the upper terrace containing the chamber of their great divinities; and led into its interior Anu and Adad, the great gods, and made them dwell in this their lofty home, thus gladdening the heart of their great divinities. Having thus recounted the rebuilding of the temple the king prays to the two gods as follows: May, therefore, Anu and Adad turn to me truly and faithfully, accept graciously the lifting up of my hand, hearken unto my devout prayers, grant unto me and my reign abundance of rain, years of prosperity, and fruitfulness in plenty! May they bring me back safely from battle and from flight; may they reduce to submission all the countries of my enemies, mountain regions that are powerful, and kings who are my adversaries! May they come nigh unto me and my priestly seed with friendly blessings; may they establish my priesthood as firm as the rocks before Ashur and the great deities for the future and for ever!21
In Ashur the Sky-god Anu was differentiated from Ramman or Adad, the god of thunder and lightning.
The temple of Anu and Adad at Ashur rebuilt by Tiglath-pileser.
Adad perhaps preferred to Anu by Tiglath-pileser.
This prayer for rain and fruitfulness is addressed with great propriety to the gods of the sky and the thunder, who might reasonably be expected to fertilize the fruits of the earth by the genial rain from heaven. If the Assyrian king discriminated at all between the two great deities whom he so highly honoured, it would seem that he put his trust rather in the Thunder-god than in the Sky-god, for after invoking the curses of Anu and Adad on any who should thereafter break, destroy, or conceal his memorial slab and foundation cylinder and erase his signature, the monarch proceeds: May Adad strike his country with disastrous lightning! thus apparently implying that the lightning of the Thunder-god was a more efficient instrument of vengeance than any that the Sky-god could wield. Can we see in this a hint that at Ashur the Sky-god was being elbowed out by his own son, just as at Erech he was elbowed out by his own daughter?
Antu or Antum, the wife of Anu.
As every god must have his wife, Anu was provided with a consort called Antu or Antum. Her name is apparently a feminine form of Anu, just as Bel had a female partner called Belit, whose name is a feminine form of his own.22 In an inscription of Agumkakrime, who reigned over Babylon about 1650 B.C., the king prays, May Anu and Antum, who live in heaven, send a blessing on Agum, the good king, who built the sanctuaries of Marduk and freed from obligation the workmen!23 But, apart from her character as a wife, Antu or Antum appears to have had no very distinct personality; it is said that after the time of Agumkakrime she is never mentioned again in the inscriptions of Babylonian and Assyrian rulers.24 Yet in the theological lists, which aimed at reducing the crowded pantheon to some sort of order and system, Anu was identified with the sky and his wife Antu with the earth.25 Thus in the religion of Babylonia we find again that ancient myth of the marriage of Sky and Earth which we have already met with in the religions of India and Greece.
In Egyptian mythology Sky (Nut) and Earth (Seb or Keb) are a married couple; but the Sky is the wife, and the Earth is the husband.
§ 2. The Worship of the Sky among the ancient Egyptians
Herodotus tells us that the ancient Egyptians observed laws and customs which for the most part were exactly the reverse of those observed by the rest of mankind.26 The observation which the Father of History applied to the laws and customs of the Egyptians might perhaps be extended to their mythology. To take the particular instance with which we are here concerned, they resembled other nations in personifying the Sky and Earth, and in marrying them to each other, but they differed from other nations in representing the Earth as the husband and the Sky as the wife. The reason for this assignment of sexes to the two deities is grammatical; for in the Egyptian language the word for sky (pet) is feminine, and the word for earth (to) is masculine.27 In Egyptian mythology the Earth-god is named Seb or Keb (for the name is variously rendered), and in art he is represented in human form reclining on the ground with one arm raised: the Sky-goddess is named Nut, and in art she is represented as a woman with her body arched over that of her husband, her feet resting on the ground at one of his extremities and her hands touching the ground at the other. Sometimes, as if to render her identity with the sky perfectly clear, her body is spangled with stars.28
The separation of Sky (Nut) from Earth (Seb or Keb) by Shu, the father of the Sky-goddess.
The Egyptians, like many other peoples, had a tradition that at first the sky and the earth were not separate from each other. This they expressed in mythical form by representing the Sky-goddess Nut lying flat on her husband the Earth-god Seb or Keb, until Shu, the father of the Sky-goddess, insinuated himself between the pair and raised up the Sky-goddess, thus creating the sky and the earth in their present form and position.29 Egyptian artists were fond of depicting Shu in the act of uplifting the Sky-goddess and supporting her on his upraised hands. There were many variations in their representations of the scene. In some of them we see Shu holding up the boat of the Sun-god Ra under the body of the Sky-goddess; in others we see the two boats of the Sun-god placed side by side on her back, the deity in the one boat being the Sun-god in his capacity of Khepera, while in the other he is Osiris. Sometimes the head of the Sky-goddess points to the east, and at other times to the west; sometimes the Earth-god lies with his head to the west, at other times with his head to the east30 A text from the tombs of the Kings at Thebes says of Shu that he has divided the heaven from the earth; he has uplifted the heaven in eternity above the earth.31 The radical meaning of his name appears to be the Uplifter, corresponding to the root shû, to uplift, to uplift oneself; it expresses the belief that he was the supporter of the heavens, or the divinity who had once raised them and thus separated them from the earth.32 In later times the Egyptians conceived of him as god of the air which fills the space between earth and sky.33 As the god of that vast intermediate region Shu was thus appropriately represented under the form of a god who held up the sky with his two hands, one supporting it at the place of sunrise, and the other at the place of sunset; several porcelain figures exist in which he is seen kneeling on one knee, in the act of lifting up with his two hands the sky with the solar disk in it.34
Nut the Mother of the Gods and of the Sun-god in particular.
The Sky-goddess Nut is spoken of in Egyptian texts as lady of heaven, mistress and mother of the gods, Nut, the great lady, who gave birth to the gods, Nut, who gave birth to the gods, the lady of heaven, the mistress of the two lands.35 She is usually represented in the form of a woman who bears on her head a vase of water, which has the phonetic value Nu, thus indicating both her name and her nature as the source of rain.36 According to one myth, the Sky-goddess Nut gave birth to her son the Sun-god daily: traversing her body he arrived at her mouth, into which he disappeared, and passing through her body he was reborn the next morning. Another myth set forth how the sun sailed in a boat up the legs and over the back of the goddess until noon, when he embarked in another boat, in which he continued his journey down the arms of the goddess until sunset. In the picture which accompanies and illustrates this myth, the whole body and limbs of the goddess are bespangled with stars, as if to remove any possible uncertainty about the nature of the object which she personified.37
The sky sometimes conceived by the Egyptians as a great cow.
But the Egyptians sometimes conceived of the sky not as a woman but as a huge cow, the legs of which were held in position by various divinities, whilst the body of the animal was supported by the god Shu. In one representation of this celestial cow the stars are figured in a row along the stomach of the animal, while the Sun is seen in his boat between its forelegs. This heavenly cow was sometimes identified with Nut and sometimes with the goddess Hathor. When the Sun-god Ra decided to retire from the lower world, he took up his abode on the back of the cow, and there he ruled the upper heaven, which, as the text relates, he had himself created, together with all those happy heavenly fields, where the pious Egyptian hoped after death to dwell among the millions of departed spirits who sing the praises of the God their maker.38
L. W. King, Babylonian Religion and Mythology (London, 1899), pp. 1 sq. Compare id., A History of Sumer and Akkad (London, 1916), pp. 1 sqq.; S. H. Langdon, in The Cambridge Ancient History, i.2 (Cambridge, 1924) pp. 356 sqq.
L. W. King, Babylonian Religion and Mythology, pp. 2 sq.
L. W. King, op. cit. p. 5.
L. W. King, op. cit. pp. 3 sq.
L. W. King, op. cit. pp. 8 sq.
L. W. King, Babylonian Religion and Mythology, pp. 9 sq.
L. W. King, Babylonian Religion and Mythology, p. 14; H. Zimmern, in E. Schrader's Die Keilinschriften und das Alte Testament3 (Berlin, 1902), p. 350; M. Jastrow, The Religion of Babylonia and Assyria (Boston, U.S.A., 1898), pp. 107, 147 sqq.
Genesis x. 10.
L. W. King, Babylonian Religion and Mythology, pp. 16 sq. As to King Lugal-zaggisi, see L. W. King, A History of Sumer and Akkad, pp. 193 sqq. In this latter passage the author gives the god's name as Ana.
M. Jastrow, The Religion of Babylonia and Assyria, p. 153.
H. Zimmern, in E. Schrader's Die Keilinschriften und das Alte Testament3, pp. 351 sq.; M. Jastrow, The Religion of Babylonia and Assyria, pp. 88-90; P. Dhorme, La Religion Assyro-Babylonienne (Paris, 1910), pp. 53 sq.; Br. Meissner, Babylonien und Assyrien (Heidelberg, 19201925), ii. 4.
M. Jastrow, op. cit. pp. 88, 207; P. Dhorme, op. cit. pp. 53 sq., 66 sq.
H. Zimmern, op. cit. p. 352; P. Dhorme, op. cit. p. 68.
M. Jastrow, op. cit. p. 465; H. Zimmern, op. cit. p. 352.
H. Zimmern, op. cit. p. 352.
H. Zimmern, op. cit. p. 352; M. Jastrow, op. cit. p. 89; P. Dhorme, op. cit. pp. 68 sq.; E. Meyer, Geschichte des Altertums,2 i. 2 (Stuttgart and Berlin, 1909), p. 423; S. H. Langdon, in The Cambridge Ancient History, i.2 396.
P. Dhorme, op. cit. pp. 69 sq.; M. Jastrow, op. cit. pp. 155, 207.
P. Dhorme, op. cit. p. 69; H. Zimmern, op. cit. p. 352. As to the worship of Ishtar at Erech (Uruk), see M. Jastrow, op. cit. pp. 84, 311, 472, 475 sq., 648; H. Zimmern, op. cit. pp. 422 sq.; and as to the city, the temple E-anna and its tower, see S. H. Langdon, in The Cambridge Ancient History, i.2 306 sq. The huge walls of the moat which surrounded the temple are still intact.
M. Jastrow, op. cit. pp. 153 sq., 207.
See above, p. 60.
Inscription of Tiglath-pileser I., King of Assyria, in R. F. Harper's Assyrian and Babylonian Literature (New York, 1901), pp. 35 sq. In quoting I have changed a single word, substituting the English placed for the American located.
M. Jastrow, op. cit. p. 153; H. Zimmern, op. cit. p. 352; P. Dhorme, op. cit. p. 70.
Inscription of Agumkakrime, in R. F. Harper's Assyrian and Babylonian Literature, p. 5. As to the date of King Agumkakrime, see E. Meyer, Geschichte des Altertums, i. 2 (Stuttgart and Berlin, 1909), p. 585.
M. Jastrow, op. cit. p. 153; P. Dhorme, op. cit. p. 70.
P. Dhorme, La Religion Assyro-Babylonienne, p. 70.
Herodotus, ii. 35.
A. Erman, Die ägyptische Religion2 (Berlin, 1909), p. 7.
A. Wiedemann, Religion of the Ancient Egyptians (London, 1897), pp. 230-232; A. Erman, Die ägyptische Religion2, pp. 7, 14, 35; (Sir) E. A. Wallis Budge, The Gods of the Egyptians (London, 1904), ii. 97 sq., 99, 100, 104 sq.
A. Erman, Die ägyptische Religion2, pp. 35 sq.; A. Wiedemann, Religion of the Ancient Egyptians, pp. 32 sq.; (Sir) E. A. Wallis Budge, The Gods of the Egyptians, ii. 98, 104, 105; J. H. Breasted, History of the Ancient Egyptians (London, 1908), p. 57.
(Sir) E. A. Wallis Budge, The Gods of the Egyptians, ii. 105. For scenes in which Shu is represented supporting the Sky-goddess on his hands, see (Sir) E. A. Wallis Budge, op. cit. ii. 99, with the plate facing p. 96; H. Brugsch, Religion und Mythologie der alten Ägypter (Leipzig, 1885). p. 210; A. Wiedemann, Religion of the Ancient Egyptians, p. 231; A. Erman, Die ägyptische Religion2, p. 35; G. Maspero, Histoire Ancienne des Peuples de l'Orient Classique, les Origines (Paris, 1895). p. 129.
A. Wiedemann, Religion of the Ancient Egyptians, pp. 32 sq.
A. Wiedemann, Religion of the Ancient Egyptians, p. 33. But according to Sir E. A. Wallis Budge (The Gods of the Egyptians, ii. 87), the name Shu appears to be derived from the root shu, dry, parched, withered, empty; Thus Shu was a god who was connected with the heat and dryness of sunlight and with the dry atmosphere which exists between the earth and the sky.
A. Erman, Die ägyptische Religion, p. 19.
(Sir) E. A. Wallis Budge, The Gods of the Egyptians, ii. 89.
A. Wiedemann, Religion of the Ancient Egyptians, p. 232; (Sir) E. A. Wallis Budge, The Gods of the Egyptians, ii. 102 sq.
(Sir) E. A. Wallis Budge, The Gods of the Egyptians, ii. 103. In the illustration given by the author on this page Nut is figured as a woman with star-spangled body, standing erect, with her arms stretched at full length above her head; beneath her arms is something which may represent a vessel of water.
(Sir) E. A. Wallis Budge, The Gods of the Egyptians, ii. 104 sq., with plate facing p. 96.
A. Wiedemann, Religion of the Ancient Egyptians, p. 64; (Sir) E. A. Wallis Budge, The Gods of the Egyptians, ii. 106; E. Erman, Die ägyptische Religion, pp. 7, 8, 15.